The National Secular Society (NSS), that bastion of freethinking, fair-mindedness and tolerance, has taken the Free Church to task for our submission to the Smith Commission.
In an article on their website, the NSS communications officer, Ben Jones, manages to convey the impression that we are arguing for a theocratic State where churches receive particular privilege.
He implies we should not be arguing from numbers (the fact that the majority of Scots still profess some form of Christian identity) and then contradicts himself by arguing from numbers - “those professing "no religion" are actually the single largest census block of the Scottish population.”
More seriously he does not understand our position on pluralism. He quotes out of context the fact that we are not "arguing for a pluralistic society" but fails to point out that what we mean by that is that we are not arguing for the kind of pluralistic valueless society where anything goes.
We explicitly argue for the kind of pluralism which allows religious freedom for all (atheists included), however we maintain that any society will have values, and we are simply requesting that these values be based on the traditional Christianity on which Scotland was founded.
Without a shadow of irony the NSS tell us that they are arguing “for a separation of religion from the state specifically so that no minority or majority group, of any size or strength, can impose its philosophical, spiritual or religious beliefs on others.” The chutzpah of that is breath taking.
The NSS exists in order to impose its philosophical, spiritual and religious beliefs’ on us all. In fact they regard their beliefs (faith) as so self-evident that it should be illegal to have any other faith or value system practiced in public life.
If the NSS were simply arguing for a separation of Church and State then many Christians would have little difficulty with that. But that is not what they are arguing.
They are arguing that there should be no Christian influence in education, health care, politics or any form of public life. Christians, or for that matter any other group, are not allowed to challenge the values and beliefs of the secularists. This is not freedom but tyranny.
Do the secularists have values? Indeed they do. They believe for example that same sex marriage is right (but I assume they are still opposed to sibling marriage?).
They will argue for equality in education but insist that taxpayers money is only spent on schools which teach their values. The irony is that they think they are being tolerant when in reality they are expressing a form of extreme intolerance.
We do not object to secularists setting up schools and giving parents the right to choose to send their children to schools where their values are taught and are the main ethos.
But they object to Christians and others setting up schools where our values are taught and are the main ethos. They insist they have the right to indoctrinate our children into their faith. And then they have the nerve to accuse us of being intolerant for objecting to that!
Again here is another classic self-contradictory quote from Mr Jones: “Secularism, as the NSS sees it, is the neutral arbiter of state power, so that no religion or ethical doctrine is mandated or favoured by government.”
Is Mr Jones really saying that not stealing, not raping and not being racist is not, and should not be ‘mandated or favoured’ by government? Of course not. So his point is completely invalidated. The question is not whether any ethics are mandated or favoured by government, but which ones.
We prefer to go with the tried and tested values of Christianity (as Scotland has done for hundreds of years), rather than leave the people of Scotland to the tender mercies of the secularist elites who just know what is best for everyone!
The secular charter states, “public and publicly-funded service provision does not discriminate on grounds of religion, belief or non-belief.” That would be amusing if it were not so sad.
So let’s say that my religious belief means that I don’t want couples staying in my B&B who are not biblically married – will I be discriminated against?
What if I want to set up a school that teaches that God is the Creator and that his teaching about human sexuality is right – will I be discriminated against?
In the Brave New World of the NSS – of course. I will be discriminated against in the name of non-discrimination.
The sad thing is that the NSS ignored the major parts of our submission and instead concentrated on their own particular bête-noir, religion. You can read the report in full here - http://freechurch.org/news/new-political-settlement-must-recognise-the-strength-of-christianity
Let me issue a simple challenge to the NSS. If you really believe in tolerance, freedom, choice and pluralism; then stop arguing for an authoritarian secular State (the State as God), and instead return to the kind of society where a genuine pluralism allows freedom of religion, practice and expression.
We don’t object to you arguing for your values. We do object to you regarding them as so self-evident that any disagreement with them cannot be tolerated. Such intolerance is the very essence of the worst kind of fundamentalism.
We argue, and can demonstrate from history, that the most tolerant and free states have been those with Christian ethos and values. Please feel free to tell us your alternative. We are listening.
But we don’t want fantasyland – we want reality and reason. We want clear evidence that your position is one that has worked and will work.
Meanwhile we just simply ask that the tiny minority of the NSS and the other even smaller secular groups should not be allowed to have their elitist philosophy imposed upon those of us (majority or not), who do not want it.
Rev David Robertson is minister of St Peter's Free Church in Dundee, director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity, and Free Church of Scotland Moderator Designate.